14th February, 2012
It has no respect for age, race, social status and financial exploits. It is simply a leveler. The rich, the poor, the ugly, the beautiful and indeed men and women of all ages have fallen victim of this dreaded scourge.
Cancer, the most feared word and disease in the world, has been around as long as mankind. However, it is only in the second half of the 20th century that the number of cancer cases exploded. In 2001, cancer caused about 13% of all human deaths worldwide (7.9 million).
This disease, that affects people of all ages, does not just appear out of nowhere, it has definite causes that can be corrected if the body has enough time, and if actions are taken to change the body’s internal environment to one that creates health while at the same time attacking cancerous cells and tumour by exploiting their weaknesses. Essentially, cancers occur as a result of excessive amount of toxin and pollutants people are exposed to high stress lifestyles that zap the immune system, poor quality junk food that are full of pesticides, irradiated and genetically modified.
Other causes include electromagnetic stress lights and everything we were not exposed to 200 years ago. All these weaken the immune system and change the body’s internal environment to one that promotes cancer growth.
Malignant neoplasm or cancer is a group of different diseases involving irregular cell growth which often makes it to imitate other diseases. Often, cancer patients have been treated for other diseases for so long leading to the metastases of the disease which eventually kill the patient.
An example that readily comes to mind is the case of the late radical lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi who was diagnosed with pneumonia but eventually died of lung cancer. It can affect all the other organs of the body. If it affects the lungs, it manifests in form of cough or pneumonia; for esophageal cancer, it narrows the esophagus causing painful swallowing anemia or rectal bleeding. Initial swelling in cancer is usually painless although localised pain may occur in advanced cancer. Other symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, unexplained anemia, fever of unknown origin.
Generally, in diagnosing cancer, a biopsy i.e. taking a specimen of the lump or swelling for examination, is considered essential for the proper identification of the disease. Occasionally, a metastatic lump or pathological lymph node is found (in the neck) for which primary tumour cannot be found. Cancer is a curable disease that should not be allowed to terminate life, but it should be detected on time. Chemotherapy (drugs) and radiotherapy are used as a first line radical therapy in a number of malignancies where disease is clearly incurable aiming at improving the quality of and prolonging life. Surgeries are used to remove tumours entirely in situations where there are some degrees of certainties that the tumors can in fact be removed. Chemotherapy works by killing all cells throughout the body that multiply and divide rapidly which include cancer cells and other rapidly multiplying and dividing cells that the body needs. These include bone marrow which produces blood, digestive and reproductive system, and hair follicles etc. leading to anemia, loss of weight and hair loss.
It is, therefore, gratifying to note that as the world observed “The World Cancer Day” on February 4, 2012 with the theme “Together it is Possible”, the attention of all stakeholders was once again drawn to the plight of many who have been held captive by this dreadful disease. However, there is an urgent need to move beyond the rhetoric that usually characterise such days by dwelling more on practical means of tackling this plague. Everyone- governments, health institutions, individuals- has to be involved in the campaign for the reduction of the cancer epidemic all over the world. The attention should now shift towards exploring alternative means of tackling the disease.
In Nigeria, researchers have found out that herbal remedies could be used to combat the disease. Recently, researchers from the Department of Biological Sciences, Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State and Department of Plant Science and Applied Zoology, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State in a study titled “Ethno botanical Survey of Anti-cancer in Ogun State Nigeria” found out that plant species that can be used to tackle cancer include : African Pepper (xylopia aethopical), bitter kola (Garcinca kola), Sausage tree (kigelia Africana), Anthocleista dialonensis (sapo in Yoruba, Kwara in Hausa, Okpokolo in Igbo), Citrus Species (orange, grapefruit, tangerine, lime and lemon), Allium Species (garlic, onion, shallot). In essence, cancer patients do not have to avoid chemotherapy or radiotherapy to benefit from natural products and supplements. Nutritional supplements are quite useful when used in conjunction with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. The supplements work to support the body so that radiation and chemotherapy will actually work better resulting in stronger immune system which will better able to keep cancer from developing again. Since early detection is antidote to curing the disease, government at all levels should provide adequate equipment for diagnosing cancer, provide enlightenment and funds necessary for this purpose. When the right actions are taken, even aggressive, tough cancer can be defeated.
It is equally pleasing that attempt is being made in the country by concerned stakeholders to put in place the first comprehensive cancer care centre in Nigeria to be known as the Port Harcourt Cancer Comprehensive Care Centre (PHCC). The project, which is to take off 1st of February, 2013, will be situated on a 50-hectare piece of land close to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, UPTH, at a cost of N10 billion. The first phase will be completed within one year and would be launched March 3, 2013. Special features of the facility include presence of an Oncology Department, admission for treatment and care of cancer patients only, modern equipment including cyber knife, CT Scan, Bone Scan, PET Scans (Positron Emission Tomography), which can detect areas of cancer by obtaining images of the body cells as they work. Quality of staff to man operations at the Centre will consist mainly professional oncologists and trained medical staff. The centre will be developed in five phases with each phase costing about N2 billion. The five phases could be established concurrently given availability of funds. Chief promoter of the initiative is Dr. Lulu-Briggs and his wife, Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs who will facilitate the initiative and mobilise support for other partners and sponsors within and outside Nigeria. The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, has formally requested major telecommunication companies to create a special common short code so that ordinary Nigerians can make their donations through their mobile telephones. An interested person who uses the code will have N100 deducted and is pooled for the project. This short code has already been adopted by Glo, Airtel, and Starcomms, while MTN is working towards its implementation. To further create public participation, Interstwich Nigeria has created a platform for Electronic Transfer of funds through the NCPP’s Interswitch Code No 777526.
In Lagos State, the state government in its effort to eradicate the menace of cancer in the state has established medical and tests centres in local government areas where women can visit regularly for check-ups and treatment where necessary on cervical and breast cancer. From time to time, the state government organises enlightenment campaigns for women across the state on the need to regularly go for free blood pressure test provided by the state government. Indeed, the state government recently entered into collaboration with notable nolywood star actresses and actors with a view to further enlightening the people on the scourge.
While celebrating the 2012 World Cancer Day, the Lagos State Government attributed cancer burden in Nigeria on underreporting, lack of appropriate diagnosis, limited access to care, differences in technical manpower and infrastructure and quality of cancer data system, emphasising that it is only by every person, organisations and government individually doing their part that the world will be able to reduce premature deaths from cancer and other non-communicable diseases to 25 per cent by 2025. Similarly, the state is coming up with a cancer policy that would cover all areas of management of cancer; provide guidelines for all stakeholders in the treatment and management of the disease including awareness creation, prevention among others.
It is hoped that in the coming days more concrete efforts that will translate into sustainable actions aimed at reducing the impact of the scourge across the world will be put in place by all concerned stakeholders. The human life is too precious to be left at the mercy of such a deadly disease. Imagine us still having a dogged fighter such as the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi around in Nigeria. The time to put up a common front against the disease is now!
•Bakare is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.